Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blog Stories 2008: #4 - Powell vs. Handel

The smallest sparks can create the largest fires.

Residency challenges occur every election. They are small, quiet battles involving much inside baseball and arcane code sections. Rarely do they burble up to the top of tickets, for anyone running for high profile office surely knows where they live.

When Democrat Jim Powell signed up to run for the Public Service Commission primary, few realized he started a chain of events that would roll and buckle Georgia political blogs for months.

For motivations still unrevealed, fellow Democrat Jim Indech challenged Powell's residency based on the anomaly of a homestead exemption outside the contested district. Although Powell lived, played and voted in Towns County, he maintained homestead in Cobb County.

Few thought the case would go far, particularly when an Administrative Law Judge found for Powell in late June, but on the Friday before the election, Secretary of State Karen Handel overruled the ALJ and removed Powell from the ballot.

Chaos reigned. Signs were hastily posted at polling places, requests for injunction were filed and outrage boiled over on Democratic activist blogs.

Powell received the requested injunction and remained on the ballot for the primary. In that contest, he stomped Indech by 70 points, but the battle was far from over. Although the electorate spoke, the court had not. The real threat of Powell being removed from the ballot post facto thus invalidating the votes of thousands of Georgians remained.

What followed were a series of legal challenges which travelled all the way to the Supreme Court of Georgia. Such unprecedented publicity of a residency challenge gave opportunity for Georgia's political blogs to delve deeply into both the politics and the law.

In November Powell won the case with a terse court ruling in his favor 9-0, but lost the race against Republican Lauren McDonald 56-44.

It may be debated for some time whether the strange twists of Powell vs. Handel ultimately helped or harmed the Powell candidacy, but one surety emerged - no one will take a residency challenge lightly again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Too bad no one in the legislature has the guts to introduce a law to make this crisp and clear.

They are all too chicken that they might get bit by common sense legislation.